Articles on Human Genetics and Synthetic Biology by Stuart Newman

In advance of his conversation with Milton Reynolds at East Bay Conversations on June 6, 2013, Stuart Newman shares selected articles he has written over the past 10 years on human genetics and synthetic biology.

Stuart Newman received an A.B. from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in chemical physics from the University of Chicago.  He has been a visiting professor at the Pasteur Institute, Paris, the Centre à l’Energie Atomique-Saclay, Gif-sur-Yvette, the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, the University of Tokyo, and was a Fogarty Senior International Fellow at Monash University, Australia.  He was a founding member of the Council for Responsible Genetics, Cambridge, MA.


The Demise of the Gene

Stuart A. Newman

Download pdf: CNS Gene_13

The gene is losing its luster as a biological explanatory principle, but those who stand to profit from its supremacy are promoting it harder than ever. It is nearly 70 years since the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Erwin Schrodinger wrote: ‘‘The chromosome structures are . . . instrumental in bringing about the development they foreshadow. They are code law and executive power, or to use another simile, they are the architect’s plan and the builder’s craft in one’’ (Schrodinger 1945). (Another Nobel Laureate, the developmental biologist Sydney Brenner [2001, 34], later called this statement ‘‘Schrodinger’s fundamental error.’’) It is almost 30 years since still another Nobelist, the cancer biologist David Baltimore (1984), termed DNA the ‘‘executive suite’’ for which the rest of the cell is the ‘‘factory floor.’’ … Read the entire article as pdf.


Synthetic Biology: Life as App Store

Stuart A. Newman

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Since the early 19th century, scientists have proposed a variety of naturalistic explanations for the organization of matter in living systems, particularly its origin and propagation from parent to offspring. Some biologists (selectionists; adaptationists) favor the idea that such organization arises by natural selection exerted on living materials with little intrinsic structure of their own. Others (structuralists; physicalists) say the complex materials that living creatures are made of have inherent self-organizational properties that determine what the life forms are and how they develop. The lack of conclusive answers despite decades of research and tens of thousands of published studies has allowed empirically unfounded creationist beliefs to persist in broad sectors of the population (Newman 2008). The still primitive understanding of the material basis of living systems also continues to instill awe in scientists, most of whom probably consider the notion of rationally designing organisms an impractical dream. However, the new field of synthetic biology now aims to change this. As I describe below, with its modus operandi of sidestepping biological origins and complexity in favor of simplification and application, ironically*and despite the intentions of the majority of scientists involved*the synthetic biology enterprise verges uncomfortably close to the metaphysics of creationism… Read entire article as pdf.


The Transhumanism Bubble

By Stuart A. Newman

Download pdf: CNS_Transhumanism_10

Contemporary proposals to use biotechnology to modify human beings, an initiative with both academic and ‘‘movement’’ (Transhumanism) manifestations, stem from a fascinating confluence of scientific and social trends. Traditionally, wealthy families and even those lower on the socioeconomic scale have treated marriage arrangements as a way of conserving and improving bloodlines, using principles similar to those employed in breeding livestock for agriculture and sport. These maneuvers reached a high pitch among the European aristocracy and gentry of the 18th and 19th centuries just as the hierarchical societies in which they ruled by virtue of heredity were coming apart… Read entire article as pdf.

Meiogenics: Synthetic Biology Meets Transhumanism

By Stuart A. Newman

Download pdf: Genewatch_Meiogenics

Some enthusiasts of synthetic biology envision technologies that would “improve” humans—and, perhaps, create useful “subhumans.” 

Synthetic biology is a collection of techniques, and research and business agendas, that includes the construction of DNA sequences that encode protein or RNA molecules which assemble into macromolecular complexes, biochemical circuits and networks with known or novel functions; the substitution of chemically synthesized DNA or DNA analogues for their natural counterparts in order to change cell behavior and/or produce novel products; and attempts to define and construct basic living systems from minimal sets of molecules.1 Synthetic biology has been termed “extreme genetic engineering” by the Erosion Technology and Concentration (ETC) Group2, in contrast to earlier recombinant DNA techniques that sought mainly to modify and refine existing types of organisms by altering or inserting individual genes… Read the entire article as pdf.


My attempt to patent a human-animal chimera

By Stuart A. Newman

Download pdf: L’Observatoire Genetique_chimera

In 1997, with the support of the social critic Jeremy Rifkin of the Foundation on Economic Trends in
Washington, D.C., Professor Stuart A. Newman undertook to apply for a patent on embryos and fullterm
creatures containing human along with nonhuman cells – so-called “chimeras” that he had no
intention of producing… Read the entire article as pdf